San Bartolomé was founded as a nucleated town center that was the year-round place of residence for its inhabitants. By around 1900, most Indians resided on scattered estates held by Ladinos, returning to town for fiestas and other ceremonies. During the active phases of the Mexican Revolution (1915-1922 in this area), nearly all Indians returned to living in the town center. In the 1920s illegal land seizures by Ladinos forced most Indians into reliance on communal lands 16 kilometers or farther away from the town center.
The response was a new and unusual residence pattern. Women and children maintained the family's primary residence in the town, while men typically walked out to their distant maize fields on Mondays, slept there in rude shelters, and did not return to the town until Friday or Saturday. Most of the town-based Indians followed this pattern of periodic male absence until the 1980s, when improved roads and increasing Indian truck ownership made daily commuting feasible.
Two mid-sized colonies and a number of smaller settlements near the Río Grijalva were abandoned in the 1970s because of rising waters behind the new hydroelectric dam. Elsewhere in the municipio, rising population since the 1960s has led to the establishment of many new settlements.